Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The Pirates of Penzance
Also see Zander's review of Big River
A glorious, three-dimensional version of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance is thrilling theatergoers of all ages at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse (the artists who created BSC's On the Town which landed on Broadway, this smashing Pirates, continuing through August 13th, tosses one highlight scene after another literally into its audience.
Barrington works wonders with the 1980 rendering which Joseph Papp produced in Central Park. So, too, the main stage show in Pittsfield nearly begs for a retractable roof (like the one recently unveiled in Queens for the U.S. Open?) About the only thing possibly missing is the opportunity to gaze upward and glance at twinkling stars.
Here we go: a group of pirates cavort about as an apprentice, Frederic (Kyle Dean Massey), informs Pirate King (Will Swenson), that he, Frederic, about to turn 21, will no longer be restricted to his slave-like obligations. Ruth (Jane Carr), however, the woman who has taken care of Frederic since he was little, explains that she made an error by linking him with a pirate instead of pilot, as she was instructed. The young man tells the pirates that, upon his release, he intends to rid this place of them. He does not want them robbing orphans and, naturally, the pirates say that they, too, are orphans. Frederic, having spent all his time with pirates and Ruth, hasn't seen another woman. A problem, for him, is that he was born on February 29th, and has really only served for five birthdays, not 21 as he assumed.
Some of the sweetest girls appear and Frederic is hoping one will marry him. Mabel (Scarlett Strallen), she of the golden locks and high soprano voice, is the beauty for him. Major- General (David Garrison) will come along with the news that he, the general, is father to the young women. Each pirate hopes to marry one of them.
A bunch of policeman, led by the seemingly most flexible human ever, actor Alex Gibson playing the Sergeant, make an appearance, at some point, to capture the pirates. Yet, these policemen, not exactly filled with reams of courage, are hoping to avoid conflict. And so on....
Beowolf Borritt's set for this summer spectacular is a stunner. He creates a walkway or plank which extends from the stage far into orchestra house seats. During various intervals of the performance, catering to children and adults alike, pirates and others appear on the mast ropes extending from the boards toward the ceiling; or creep along the aisles. Jess Goldstein's distinctive wardrobing is just right.
The current Pirates is filled with zip, pizzazz, plenty of comedy and star performance. Will Swenson (he of Hair, Les Miserables and much more on Broadway), is exceptional. Handsome in a scruffy manner, he plays the Pirate King within the context rather than above the ensemble. All credit to the actor and director Rando. Swenson might have grabbed the spotlight, given his obvious talent and strong baritone singing voice, but takes the lead only when it rightfully matters. Swenson's Pirate King is forceful and terrific with tunes like ""Oh, Better Far to Live and Die." Scarlett Strallen's Mabel is alternately delicate or strong, given her character's turns. She shines with "Poor Wandering One!" Strallen's enunciation is precise and she steps up, with poise, warmth and physical appeal. She has been a featured actress in London; now more of us will be aware of her musical theater expertise. Garrison, the Major-General, is dextrous with "I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major General." Actor Phillip Boykin plays Samuel, who garners quick attention early in the performance. Malleable Gibson is special.
Bergasse has the ability to create movement which, when suitable, encourages defining moments. He imaginative fluent, graceful, show-stopping steps (see the police) are a joy to behold.
All the while, Darren R. Cohen, who brings musical direction and additional arrangements to the current Pirates, honors Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta. It concludes, not surprisingly, with everyone on stage feeling pretty chipper - very much crowd pleasing stuff. John Rando, at the helm, puts it all together and the result is a resounding couple of hours of theater!
The Pirates of Penzance continues on the Boyd-Quinson MainStage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through August 13th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.